Decision Science – Learn How Shoppers Buy

Leverage the science of buying to increase the effectiveness of your ecommerce store

In a rapidly changing retail world, understanding which strategies work and which ones do not is a key priority for every brand and retailer with an ecommerce store. The sands are constantly shifting and what is very apparent is that a strategy that works one week may not work the following week. This is forcing every online retailer to continually try out new strategies and approaches to ascertain which ones are able to gain the attention of the shopper and to influence a purchase.

The challenges to achieving this however, are numerous. There are an infinite number of strategies you could apply and so how do you prioritise these and in addition, how should these be implemented to achieve the best results? You can’t test every possible option, so how can you start to make more informed decisions that provide the foundation for increasing the performance of your ecommerce site? This is when we realised that by better understanding the science behind how consumers shop, there is a very real opportunity for every online retailer to make better decisions and increase the effectiveness of their ecommerce performance.

We are therefore delighted to have engaged with Phil Barden. For those of you who don’t know, Phil is the author of Decoded and one of the very few experts to combine a practitioner's perspective with a profound knowledge of decision science. His approach combines the various fields of psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics to unlock the driving forces and underlying mechanisms of human decision-making, and purchase choices in particular.

Phil has provided us with an overview on how decision science works along with an actual example of the impact it can have on the effectiveness of digital engagement…

Phil Barden

As an arts graduate and 25 year veteran of numerous marketing campaigns I never thought that I’d find myself getting over-excited by science. However, having witnessed the power of ‘decision science’ to increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing activities, I now find myself delighting in helping marketers and agencies to leverage a combination of neuroscience, cognitive/social psychology and behavioural economics. We call this combination ‘decision science’ and, in my view, it is the very foundation of marketing: why? Because marketing is fundamentally about behaviour change and these fields of science and academia have been studying behaviour for decades. Let me give you some examples and then show you some results from applying decision science principles to increase conversion rate for a client.

Firstly, here’s a simple framework we use to explain mental processes.


'Copyright DECODE marketing' 

On the left is everything that marketers and their agencies create, every touchpoint whether physical or digital, tangible or experiential. All of these represent ‘signals’ that enter the brain. Obviously, we want them to work in some way to drive behaviour (on the right-hand side). Between the signal and the desired behaviour is a series of mental processes. The interaction between the processes is much more complex than depicted here but this is designed to be easily understood.

The first, and crucial, step is for the signal to enter the brain via attention and perception through our senses. You’ve heard of the expression ‘out of sight is out of mind’ and this is, quite literally, true for the brain. If a signal is not perceptible then no further processing happens. The second step is when the brain decodes the meaning of the incoming signal. It metaphorically asks, ‘what is it, what does it represent’ and answers that by pattern-matching in our associative memories.

Having recognised the signal as having a meaning, the brain then decides, in the third step, whether or not to act. The question here is ‘what’s in it for me, is this rewarding or threatening’?

All of these processes evolved to help us survive. We may need to act in milliseconds, so the perception, decoding and motivation created by a signal happen largely automatically, intuitively and pre-consciously (using the so-called ‘System 1’). Fortunately, science already knows the key principles by which all of these processes work, so we can harness them to increase the effectiveness of the signals that we create. 

Let’s take a look at a real case.  

We worked with Sapphire Digital in the U.S. to review their landing page and make recommendations for improvements. It goes without saying that a landing page is vital! If you don’t get your customers to engage with this then you have no hope of them engaging further, whatever your business.



We used known drivers of attention to make sure that viewers looked where we wanted them to. In addition, we used ways to increase ‘perceptual fluency’ to make navigation easier and more brain-friendly. Finally, we employed what’s known about human motivation, in terms of functional and social/emotional/psychological ‘goal’ achievement, to make sure that further engagement would be rewarding.

Our recommendations led to a total refresh of the landing page and the results speak for themselves; 21% increase in conversion in the first two weeks, rising to 39% in the first six months. This is why I’m excited – decision science works!


In Summary

When considering Phil’s example, it is clear to see that ‘Decision Science’ has the potential to significantly improve how brands and retailers optimise and enhance the overall performance of their ecommerce sites. We believe that, when this is combined with machine learning and embedded into a continuous test & learn approach, the results will most definitely speak for themselves.


We are very grateful to Phil for sharing his expertise and if anyone would like to follow up directly with Phil, and to learn more about how to apply decision science in ecommerce




Looking for more inspiration?

Trends in Value-Based Shopping: Orchestrating new shopper journeys in a changing retail landscape

(with contributions from Phil Barden)

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